Apple fights back against Siri driver distraction critics

Apple has issued a statement in the Wall Street journal criticizing a study conducted by the University of Utah for the American Automobile Association in October that rated Apple’s Siri (and other naturalistic voice-command virtual assistants by proxy) as “the most” distracting in-car task compared to just driving, adjusting the car’s radio or temperature, or using built-in car navigation or infotainment systems. In its response, Apple points out some serious flaws in the study, including the fact that it deliberately avoided using the driving-specific Siri Eyes Free or CarPlay options.


The study rated driver tasks that used built-in systems such as adjusting the radio, but compared voice systems by having drivers hold the smartphone and use the phone’s native voice assistant (Siri was the only tested system of this nature, but was intended as a “stand-in” for others like Microsoft’s Cortana on Windows 8 phones). The method used to test only voice-assistant smartphone use is patently illegal in many states, and ignored any built-in car integration with Siri or other systems.

The revelation would seem to confirm early criticism of the study that AAA’s Foundation for Traffic Safety, which paid for the study, has a long history of being opposed to any form of driver distraction at all, going back to the introduction of car audio systems — and that it deliberately slanted the latest study to ignore the safety recommendations of voice-assistant makers like Apple and paint the technology in the worst possible light.

“CarPlay and Siri Eyes Free intuitively use your vehicle’s native controls, so you don’t need to pick-up and look at your phone while driving,” Apple said in its response to the Wall Street Journal, which broke the original story. “These experiences are tailored so you only have access to iPhone apps that are optimized for the car and make sense for an in-vehicle experience.”

Apple’s statement did not challenge, however, the overall conclusion found in a number of studies that natural-voice systems can be distracting. Because Cortana, Google Now, Siri and other natural-voice programs can often misunderstand drivers and be difficult to correct, the more primitive limited-voice command systems can actually be more reliable, though they generally have a far more limited range of abilities.

That said, studies outside the AAA one found that voice command of infotainment systems is generally safer than operating controls manually — the opposite of the AAA study. Anything other than silent concentration on driving alone — even just listening to music — is considered more distracting, but the issue becomes a question of degree. While there is little disagreement that voice-control assistants could be and likely will be made more reliable going forward, the AAA FTS study appears to be nearly worthless, since it did not test voice assistants when they are integrated into the car’s existing systems — a factor that could make a major difference on how distracting the system is.

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Source: MacNN via Telematics News

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About Tim Cosgrove

Tim Cosgrove heads two technology companies Co-Star and Cloud-Star who supply 5G and4G LTE connectivity products to the ICT industry globally and are based at Harrogate in the UK. Working at the forefront of the mobile communications industry gives Tim a unique perspective on the latest emerging technologies that help to improve how businesses and people communicate and operate in the future. Tim is keen to share his insights and passion for the latest technologies through the Co-star blog. Please get in touch if you have any technology related news or press releases that you would like us to share.